It’s been ironic, to say the least, to watch Congress’ Republican leaders and most of the rank-and-file fret that President Obama will get rolled in the Iran nuclear talks, while pressing to grant him sweeping authority to reach new trade deals in the form of a fast track bill. It’s even more ironic since Japan, the largest economy other than the United States in the president’s centerpiece Pacific Rim trade agreement, is not only confident of outwitting the president – it’s advertised this optimism.
Just check out this account of an article by Japan’s new agriculture minister, Yoshimasa Hayashi, shortly before he assumed this post for the second time. According to a March post in East Asia Forum, Hayashi’s piece “contrasted…US negotiators’ method of putting everything on the negotiating table, even when they knew it could not be achieved, with the Japanese style of carefully selecting what they negotiated on.” The post continued, “Hayashi brings this understanding to US–Japan TPP [Trans-Pacific Partnership] negotiations. He, like others, believes that the US desire to have Japan on board the TPP should be used as a bargaining chip.”
In other words, Congressional Republicans have been blasting the president for valuing any deal over a good deal in the Iran talks. But they’re trusting him to preserve and protect U.S. interests in negotiations with a country convinced that Mr. Obama is just as transparently over-eager on trade.
Only two explanations for this contrast seem plausible –neither remotely comforting. The first is that the critical mass of Republicans in Congress believe that bad trade agreements can’t harm the U.S. Economy. The second is that these lawmakers are completely beholden to an offshoring lobby that has historically profited from such agreements at the American economy’s expense – the outcome history teaches Americans to expect from TPP.